The Soviet Union charged yesterday that the United States implanted secret eavesdropping devices in the new Soviet Embassy apartments at Mount Alto off Wisconsin Avenue.
U.S. spokesmen had no comment on the latest skirmish of the undercover war between the intelligence agencies of the two countries, except to confirm that a Soviet diplomatic protest about the alleged bugging was presented to the State Department last Monday.
A State Department official said Soviet Acting Ambassador Vladillen M. Vasev "waved around" photographs of eavesdropping devices while making his protest to Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance. The Soviet Embassy released some of the photographs yesterday to back up the charges, which were published in the government newspaper, Izvestia.
The Izvestia article suggested that the bugs were found when the nine-story apartment building was completed last October. There was no explanation for the timing of the diplomatic protest and public charges, but U.S. officials expressed the view that the deepening discord between the two nations was an important factor.
The United States vigorously protested Soviet bugging of American diplomatic facilities in Moscow. A listening device was found in the Great Seal of the United States in the U.S. ambassador's residence in Moscow in 1952 and was displayed by then-ambassador to the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge during the U2 crisis in 1960.
More than 40 microphones were discovered in the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow between 1953 and 1964, according to the State Department. When the political section of the embassy was remodeled in 1975, scores of bugs reportedly were found, 11 of them in one room. More devices and a secret tunnel to service them were discovered at the U.S. Embassy in mid-1978.
The Izvertia account said "the amazing acoustics" of the new Soviet apartments here enabled the FBI and the CIA to hear "every sound, from a word spoken in the drawing room to a whisper in the bedroom or a splash of water in the toilet." The article charged that the eavesdropping devices were put into the walls with the approval of "very high-ranking U.S. authorities."
Soviet Embassy officials here said the plaster in one corner of an apartment concealed loops of wires and listening devices attached to a transmitter hidden in the wall of other parts of the building. An employe of George Hyman Construction Co., contractors for the embassy apartment, said no one was available who could comment on the Soviet charges.
The Izvertia article, which was transmitted aboard by the Soviet news agency, Tass, also charged that "tens of secret microphones and other eavesdropping devices have been discovered and removed" from Soviet offices and homes on U.S. soil. The article charged that these included:
Bugs in "a suburban settlement of the embassy near Washington."
Devices in the building housing the Soviet trade delegation.
An "impressive eavesdropping system" at the Soviet consulate in San Francisco.
Mircrophones in the upholstery of staff cars of the Soviet delegation and of Soviet members of the international secretariat at the United Nations.
Soviet Embassy officials said an official protest had been made to the United States whenever bugs were found.
The new eavesdropping charges were made as Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy F. Dobrynin returned yesterday from six weeks in Moscow. In the interim, Soviet troops moved into Afghanistan, bringing a sharp downturn in Soviet-American relations verging on a return to the chilly diplomatic relations of the Cold War era.
In the newest U.S. countermove, President Carter yesterday reversed a decision to permit importation of an unlimited amount of anhydrous ammonia from the Soviet Union. Carter had made the earlier decision Dec. 11, but yesterday he limited imports to one million tons, a figure recommended by the U.S. International Trade Commission.
Under Carter's order, new hearings will be held by the commission. Occidental Petroleum Corp., the importer of the ammonia, expressed confidence that the commission will find the imports in the national interest.